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Summary Article: Spillane, Mickey
from The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America

Mickey Spillane is a well-known American writer of crime novels. He is best known for his Mike Hammer series of books and he wrote many other crime fiction works. Frank Morrison Spillane, better known as Mickey Spillane, was born on March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York. He was raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and attended Erasmus Hall High School, graduating in 1936. After graduating from high school, Spillane briefly attended Kansas State Teachers College at Fort Hays on a football scholarship.

During the Great Depression, he traveled around and held various odd jobs, including summer lifeguarding at Breezy Point, in Queens, Long Island. The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Spillane enlisted in the U.S. military; he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, becoming a fighter pilot and training air cadets. After the war, he was briefly with the Barnum and Bailey Circus, working as a trampoline artist and knife thrower. Spillane is also reputed to have worked briefly as an undercover operative with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to break a narcotics trafficking ring.

Mickey Spillane had three wives. He married his first wife, Mary Ann Pearce, in 1945; they had two sons and two daughters and were divorced in 1962. He married his second wife, Sherri Malinou, a model and nightclub singer, in 1965; they were divorced in 1983. He married Jane Rodgers Johnson, his third wife, in 1983. Mickey Spillane had a long career as a professional writer. At the age of 14, he began professional writing, publishing pieces in the Elizabeth Daily Journal. In 1935, he began submitting articles to illustrated magazines. In the 1940s, Spillane wrote for assorted comic books, such as Batman, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Superman. In 1947, he published his first novel, I, the Jury, reportedly written in nine days because he needed money to purchase land to build a house for his growing family.

Mickey Spillane's signature character was Mike Hammer, a tough private investigator (P.I.) who reflected the prevailing values of Americans during the cold war. The Mike Hammer series and similar pulp fiction was created for the generation of American men who had served in World War II. These inexpensive paperback books, many of which were crime related and usually sported lurid cover art, revolutionized American reading habits. Mike Hammer was created as a crime-fighting figure who was not afraid to use his two big fists or his .45 handgun, the same gun that had been issued as the service pistol to World War II American infantrymen. Mike Hammer was portrayed as an ardent foe of "Commies" or "Reds;" this character served as a red-blooded opponent to cold war–era enemies, real or imagined, who might try to use subversive tactics to weaken the freedom-loving United States. Mike Hammer did not hesitate to resort to violence, nor did he shy away from sexual encounters. These steamy, violent plots were widely popular with his many avid readers. In fact, more than 225 million copies of his books have been sold internationally.

There were two significant gaps in Spillane's writing career. The first gap began in 1952 after both the release of the sixth novel in his Mike Hammer series, Kiss Me, Deadly, and after his conversion to a Jehovah's Witness. His next novel, The Deep, another in the Mike Hammer series, was first published in 1961. He published 12 other novels between 1962 and 1973, including five additional Mike Hammer works and four in his new Tiger Mann series. Tiger Mann, a secret agent, was introduced in 1964 with Day of the Guns. Spillane then wrote two acclaimed young adult books, The Day The Sea Rolled Back, which came out in 1979, and The Ship That Never Was, released in 1982. However, there was another hiatus in his crime novel writing that was broken in 1989 with another installment in the Mike Hammer series, The Killing Man, which was followed by a few other crime fiction works. In 1995, he received the Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master Award. Mickey Spillane died of pancreatic cancer on July 17, 2006, in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, at the age of 88. In 2008, the 13th novel of his Mike Hammer series, The Goliath Bone, was completed by Max Allan Collins, Mickey Spillane's literary executor.

See Also: Dime Novels, Pulps, Thrillers; Literature and Theater, Crime in.

Further Readings
  • Collins, Max Allan and Taylor, James L. One Lonely Knight: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1992.
  • Van Dover, J. Kenneth. Murder in the Millions: Erle Stanley Gardner, Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming. New York: F. Ungar, 1984.
Victor B. Stolberg
Essex County College
© 2012 SAGE Publications, Inc

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